One of the most highly anticipated upcoming movies of 2022 — especially of the superhero variety — is BLACK ADAM, in which the titular DC Comics anti-hero will be brought to life on the big screen by superstar and executive producer Dwayne Johnson. The film’s long, long-awaited release in theatres — currently set for Friday, October 21 — is now closer than ever, but did you know that the character’s debut in a live-action, feature-length film almost occurred in an earlier DC Extended Universe installment? Before it was decided that he would lead his own movie, Black Adam was going to play a major role in 2019’s SHAZAM!
People less versed in superhero lore may be wondering what Black Adam and Billy Batson have in common — outside of the lightning bolt on each of their costumes and the fact that they are both DC characters. Well, they just happen to have one of the most notorious rivalries in the comic book publisher’s history, which we will shed some light on in the following quick and convenient guide. However, let’s start with Black Adam’s first known connection to the DCEU.
Black Adam Was Subtly Referenced In Shazam!
We saw the live-action, feature-length debut of Billy Batson — played by Asher Angel — and his super-powered and super-sized alter-ego — played by Zachary Levi — in director David F. Sandberg’s fun and thrilling 2019 hit, SHAZAM! Right before the orphaned teenager is endowed with an impressive arsenal of superhuman abilities, the wizard also named Shazam — played by Djimon Honsou — admits to Billy that the last time these powers were given to someone, he “chose recklessly” as the selected champion was corrupted by the Seven Deadly Sins and nearly destroyed the world.
For a committed comic book aficionado, it does not take much time or effort to recognize that this is a reference to the character of Black Adam. It also serves as a discreet little hint at his eventual debut in the DC Extended Universe, the role that he will likely play in future movies and his relationship with Shazam. At this point, it probably goes without saying that when Levi and Johnson’s characters finally do meet on the big screen, it is not going to be pretty and the evidence lies all throughout their history in the comics.
Billy Batson Became The Wizard Shazam’s Champion After Black Adam
Despite having undergone many, many retooled versions of his origin story – such as how he was originally written as an Egyptian and later as a native of the fictional nation of Kahndaq — the one most essential element of Black Adam’s arc that remains constant is that he was once a powerless slave named Teth-Adam. That was, until the wizard Shazam chose him to be a champion of the gods and endowed him with the wisdom of Soloman, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury.
However, Teth-Adam did not use his powers for the good of the people as he was instructed to, but for his own personal gain — making himself into the tyrannical ruler of his country — and to carry out his problematic and reckless brand of justice regardless of the consequences. Shazam then chose to strip Black Adam of his powers, leading him to become imprisoned for centuries. By the time he was released, Shazam had already chosen someone else to be his new champion — the young, pure-of-heart Billy Batson.
Now, as the case tends to be with any comic book character whose story arc has been reimagined as many times as Black Adam, the exact explanation of how he became acquainted with Batson can vary. However, no matter what interpretation you come across, there is one thing that is for sure — Black Adam is not happy about how things have gone and he wants to punish the champion they call Shazam for taking his place. To make matters worse, upon his release from prison, he would become endowed with a new set of powers courtesy of a different group of six Egyptian deities that would help level the playing field during their many battles over the years.
Black Adam Became Shazam’s Ongoing Arch Nemesis
Any chance he got, Black Adam would always seek out a new way to finally take down his successor, Shazam, either by blunt force or some clever manipulation. For instance, there was one occasion — as depicted in “All-New Collector’s Edition #C-58” from May 1978 — when the villain helped Kal-El’s sand-based doppelganger, Quarmer, and the evil Martian sorcerer Karmang incite a conflict between Shazam and Superman. On a few occasions, Black Adam has also teamed up with Dr. Thaddeus Sivana — Mark Strong’s character in SHAZAM! — against Billy Batson, such as in 1977’s “Shazam #28,” which sees the foes transported to the Colonial Era, where they bump into Paul Revere.
Not all of Shazam’s conflicts with Black Adam have been particularly personal, however. The September 1980 issue of World’s Finest sees Black Adam recruited to a new version of the Monster’s Society of Evil, as formed by the conniving caterpillar, Mister Mind, whose first target happens to be Billy Batson. There was also a major event in DC’s New 52 continuity that sees Black Adam start World War III, which Shazam ends with help from Zatanna by changing their shared magic word from “Shazam” to “Chocolate Ice Cream,” making Black Adam unable to unleash his powers again after changing back to his human form.
Shazam And Black Adam Once Had To Team Up
While their relationship has always been — and will most likely remain — relatively tense, Shazam has been known to play nice with his arch enemy. This more peaceful arrangement became especially prevalent after Black Adam was rebranded in the comics as less of a villain and more of an anti-hero, and even became a member of the Justice Society of America — a superhero collective that actually predates the Justice League and is also making its feature film debut in BLACK ADAM.
There was even a time when Shazam and Black Adam joined forces — an unlikely pairing that occured as recently as 2020 in “Shazam #14.” Their common enemy was an evil, alternate-reality version of Clark Kent known as Superboy-Prime, who managed to defeat the rest of the Shazam family, leaving Billy Batson to accept the help of Black Adam to take down the Kryptonian. At least the villain can be credited with helping these powerful rivals call a truce for once.
Dwayne Johnson has actually teased the idea of his Black Adam appearing alongside Superman on screen, but he never specified if it would be Henry Cavill in the red and blues. Perhaps it could be a rogue, interdimensional version of the Kryptonian who is not necessarily Clark Kent’s alter ego which forces the anti-hero to team-up with Zachary Levi’s Shazam. Eventually, all rivalries in superhero fiction (either in comics or on the big screen) come to some sort of roadblock and we would not be surprised if that was what it took for these characters to reach that point in the DCEU. For now, we are excited to see how their cinematic rivalry starts, which just may be when BLACK ADAM finally arrives in AMC Theatres.